What does health & wellness mean to consumers? Nielsen conducts global survey

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

What does health & wellness mean to consumers asks Nielsen

Related tags Nutrition

US consumers increasingly see non-GMO, natural, organic and clean label claims as a proxy for ‘healthy’ or ‘healthier,’ says Nielsen in a new report* examining how consumers around the globe are thinking about health and wellness.

While dietitians would likely dispute whether organic sugar or non-GMO cookies are any healthier than their conventional counterparts, Millennials in particular are thinking about health and wellness in a more holistic way, incorporating social and environmental factors as well as things like fat, salt or sugar content, Nielsen director of strategic insights Andrew Mandzy told FoodNavigator-USA

“[In the US], natural, organic and non-GMO has become a proxy for health and wellness, and is connected to a desire for simpler, less processed food, rather than just being about things like calories or sugar.

“But how consumers think about health and wellness also depends a lot on age, so Boomers tend to think in more functional terms about foods and ingredients because they are including or avoiding them to help manage health conditions (heart disease, diabetes, hypertension etc)

ingredients avoided Nielsen
Source: Global Health and Ingredient-Sentiment Survey 2016

So in the US, 60% say they’re actively making dietary choices to help manage certain health conditions (obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol etc).

“However, Millennials over-index on things like organics, transparency, hormone and antibiotic-free, and are less interested in specific ingredients such as fiber.”

Sales of products with health & wellness claims are outpacing overall category growth

He added: “While total fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sales volume has been flat over the past four years, sales of products with health and wellness claims​ [in which Nielsen includes natural, free-from and organic claims] are outpacing total category growth by a significant margin in many categories.

Nielsen food trends 2016

“In the US, Nielsen Wellness Track data shows that in several traditionally indulgent categories, products with wellness claims are outpacing total category growth. For example, volume sales of salty snacks with a natural or organic claim on the package grew 5.7% and 23.4%, respectively, over the 52 weeks ended July 30, 2016, compared with growth of 2.6% for the total category.”

In the US, he said, volume sales of products with an organic claim on the package grew 13.1% over the 52 weeks ended July 30, 2016, he added, while products with hormone or antibiotic-free, non-GMO or natural grew 21.7%, 12.0% and 7.5%, respectively, over the same period.

Claims that the product was made without artificial colors or flavors, high-fructose corn syrup or MSG also grew compared to the previous year, with volume sales of such products growing 5.4%, 3.2% and 2.3%, respectively, year over year, he added.

Digestive health is trending

One area of opportunity that many food manufacturers are now tapping into is digestive health, which also includes gluten-, wheat- grain-, and lactose-free products as well as products perceived to be good for your gut such as some fermented foods, coupled with foods that have had well characterized probiotic strains added to them, he said.

Source: Global Health and Ingredient-Sentiment Survey 2016

“A lot of our clients are trying to understand this category and how consumers are thinking about digestive health.”

Volume sales of products with a grain-free claim grew 75.7% in year to July 30

When it comes to eating patterns, half of North American respondents claim to follow a special diet of some kind (ranging from low carb to Halal, lactose-free to vegan), he said, while more than a third (36%) of global respondents say they or someone in their household have an allergy or intolerance to one or more foods.

“In the US, Nielsen Wellness Track data shows that volume sales of products that included a grain-free or gluten-free claim on the package grew 75.7% and 9.5%, respectively, while sales of products with a nut-free claim grew 15.2% over the 52 weeks ended July 30, 2016. Volume sales of products with a lactose claim (lactose-free or reduced lactose) were up 4.8%.”

Nielsen artificial ingredients
Source: Global Health and Ingredient-Sentiment Survey 2016

Hartman Group: Consumers move in and out of different dietary approaches

In its Hartbeat newsletter​ this week, Hartman Group also explores evolving definitions of health & wellness along with new dieting trends.

Contemporary ‘diets’ are “personalized and all about balance, wellness and energy​,” says Hartman Group, which says this is “shorthand for feeling lighter, better digestion, reducing inflammation and ultimately feeling good and being happy.”

“With so many options, no one diet or plan dominates, and for many consumers who manage their wellness through food, their eating objectives extend beyond how they look to how they feel,” ​it says. “Today, ‘losing weight’ is often replaced with ‘eating healthy.’”

Millennials are the most open to trying different eating ideologies

Consumers also move in and out of different diet approaches, with some rotating through part-time diets that may include spurts of fasting, detox cleanses or “going vegan​” for a certain number of days, adds Hartman Group, which says 32% of US adults have tried various approaches to eating and dieting in the past year, ranging from vegetarian (9%) to Paleo (3%) to lactose-free (7%), gluten-free (7%), and vegan (5%).

“Millennials are the most open to trying different eating ideologies: more than four in ten (44%) say they have tried a new approach in the past year.”

* Nielsen’s Global Health and Ingredient-Sentiment Survey​ - conducted in March 2016 - is based on feedback from 30,000 consumers with online access in 63 countries.

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